All I've Got

Distance: 37.3 mi.

Time: 2:02:13

Avg. Speed: 18.31 mph

Weather: 55-63º, 83-63% humidity, wind NW7

Song stuck in head: Kid With the Butterfly Net - Graham Parker

Today's ride was along one of my "combo" routes that mixes a bit of Harvard climbing with a fair amount of rollery goodness. (map below) I'll describe these regular routes in detail only the first time I ride them as I will today. Stick with it, there's some good psycho-babble in the middle there somewhere.

I set out from the Stow Plaza parking lot this morning at 6:05 a.m and headed towards Harvard via my usual route, along Red Acre, South Acton and Taylor Roads. Once I crested that short and steep section at the beginning of Taylor, another rider overtook me.

His name was Jose, he rode a Lightspeed and also lives in Maynard. He remarked at how strong I looked as he observed me riding across West Acton Road. Hehe, he hadn't seen me do any sustained climbing yet.

We pedaled along together until we reached the foot of the Stow Road climb and I let him know that this will likely be where we part ways. Sure enough, Jose bounded on up Stow as I chugged along at a much slower pace.

At the base of Stow, there is a green mailbox on the left which serves as a "starting line" for the climb, the finish is the stop sign at the top. Last year, I managed to complete the climb in about 6 minutes. I was hoping to do it today in 6' 30".

I took note of the time and started up, trying to attack each steep section first out of the saddle, then seated but keeping my cadence closer to my normal cruising rate (90-95 rpm). Things went pretty well until that last 100 yards or so, when I was finally in my largest cog and dogging along at a paltry 10 mph. Of course by this time I had forgotten what my chrono said at the bottom and now I had no idea how long it took me. Hehe, it seemed fast...

Across Rte. 111 onto Slough Road I went with more reserve energy than expected and continued onto Oak Hill Road and the left after Carlson Orchards to Pinnacle. I definitely felt like I had more juice in me than usual.

One more turn and I was soon on the descent of Oak Hill, along Old Littleton/Oak Hill Road. Passed many cyclists working their way up in the customary direction. Descending that side of Oak Hill is a lot of fun, with a couple of straight stretches where you can really open it up as well as curves and little rises to keep things interesting. But it's not the part of this route where I usually hit my top speed, that comes later.

Through Littleton Station and onto Rte 2A into Littleton proper, I'm hoping the road improvements they made to the 495 overpass will soon extend in both directions along 2A: Littleton has some of the worst roads around with the prize-winner being Goldsmith Road near Long Lake - the asphalt is so broken up that it's more like a bunch of cobblestones tossed carelessly onto the road. Anyway, once I got through downtown, I got to enjoy another descent past Kimball's and then up a short hill to the turn for Rte. 225.

The stretch of 225 on this route is a great combination of short, steep climb-lets (new word?) and stretches where you can really put on the gas. Again, I attacked the hills more aggressively than I usually do, out of saddle at first, then seated. There's one section of Westford Street near mile 25 where I routinely maintain a speed in the high 30's. You wouldn't think so as it's not all that steep, but just a long grade down without interruption.

At the center of Carlisle, the route goes to the right down Concord St./Lowell Rd. This is also the first leg of the Wednesday night Charlie Baker TT (which runs the other way). This part is not unlike the section of 225 on this route but with out the 3 short & steep climb-lets. When I get to this part of the route, I usually know for sure whether I started out too hard or not and today I felt pretty darn good and was able to maintain 20+ mph nearly the whole way.

At this point in the ride, I made an important change in how I think about things as I slog along. Along with the many technique-related "mantras" I chant to myself (ie., "pedal in circles", "hold your line", "keep your elbows in"), some performance related phrases repeat themselves in my mind. This spring, one that kept haunting me was "that's all I've got" - definitely not a winner's chant. Certainly, it's really a kind of passive-aggressive quitter's excuse. Once I start hearing that in my mind, I would tend to ease up a bit. Bleh.

Well, today it morphed into, "Is that all I've got?" I like this much better. First off, it's a question to be answered not an answer in itself like "that's all I've got". And most of the time, when asked, the answer will be, "No, I've got more in me." Better still, the question invites me to use it over and over, ratcheting my performance up and beyond what I thought possible. This whole realization took only seconds to grasp, process and implement - the way things that just "click" will do. Good stuff.

Returning to the ride itself, the route navigates through downtown Concord, always a crapshoot. But at 7:30 or so in the morning, there's almost no traffic and better yet, no jaywalkers. From there a long, slight uphill grade takes you to the Rte. 2 intersection, where you almost never get a green light as you approach. And I didn't this morning but it changed pretty quickly and I was off again into West Concord and out then up the last big hump on Lawsbrook Road. Then a left on Parker which sends me over some more rollers and back home along Concord St.

As I pedaled along Concord St., I became curious as to whether I was even close to my best times from last year on this route, as I still felt pretty strong. At first, I thought, "just push on and find out when you are done" but my curiosity got the best of my and I cycled my computer through to the clock which revealed that I was about 2-3 minutes behind last year's times. Not bad, but still I got up and started really pushing to minimize the difference.

I'm still making good progress, I can't put a date out there where I'll be back to where I was last year, but I feel it's coming. I'll have a lot of tough sessions focussing on climbing and sprinting ahead of me and certainly more humbling rides like this past Saturday's, but I'm feeling good about things. I'm also glad my brain's radio squeezed Crowded House out for some Graham Parker - gotta learn to play that song on the guitar.

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